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Prosecution seeks warrant for Yoo’s aide

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Published : 2014-05-29 21:05
Updated : 2014-05-29 21:05

The prosecution said Thursday that it had asked the Incheon District Court to issue an arrest warrant for medical professor Lee Jae-ok, who allegedly masterminded the escape of Yoo Byung-eun, the de facto owner of the sunken ferry Sewol.

Lee is chief of the Hemato-Centric Life Foundation, a quasi-medical unit under the wing of the Salvation Sect, which is led by the fugitive Yoo. Lee, in his late 40s, is also a professor at a medical college in city near Seoul.

According to prosecutors, Lee is to be charged with leading the plans for Yoo’s flight from investigators, who are searching for him nationwide.

Lee has also been suspected of selling Yoo’s art works in an unfair manner as a close confidant of the 73-year-old business tycoon. The sales may have earned illicit business funds of Yoo and Chonghaejin Marine Co., the operator of the ill-fated Sewol.

Lee is also known to have misled journalists by offering groundless information on Yoo’s whereabouts during his news conference at Geumsuwon, a religious compound in Anseong, Gyeonggi Province, earlier this month.

Aside from requesting an arrest warrant, investigators raided Lee’s office to seize a variety of documents including computer hard disks.

Meanwhile, the prosecution said it would summon another confidant of Yoo, Cho Pyung-soon, chief of a fishing village cooperative, who is thought to have managed Yoo’s wealth through financial accounts under borrowed names, on Friday.

Cho is also known to have led the management of several agricultural entities linked to the sect. The farming cooperatives are estimated to own land worth about 200 billion won ($190 million) in various parts of Korea.

As of Thursday, eight followers of Yoo have been arrested, while Yoo’s oldest daughter, who is one of the key figures suspected of business irregularities, was seized in Paris by French investigators.

Following the former intelligence that Yoo was hiding himself in Suncheon, South Jeolla Province, police recently a tip-off that the fugitive and some of his followers had selected the “partisan route” in Mount Jiri as their path of escape to other regions.

Some observers have again suggested that Yoo may have already smuggled himself abroad.

Later in the day, the Incheon District Court approved the prosecution’s request to freeze the assets held by the Sewol owner Yoo and his three children in a bid to prevent them from stashing away cash or real estate holdings before the coming indictment or trials.

Though their illicitly gained wealth is estimated to reach 240 billion won, including the assets allegedly under borrowed names, prosecutors’ initial target ― filed with the court ― stood at 16.1 billion won in bank deposits and stocks, which were verified through real-name accounts.

Prosecutors’ “ultimate” target of 240 billion won includes an estimated 129.1 billion won held by Byung-eun, 49.2 billion won by Seom-na, 5.6 billion won by the 73-year-old business tycoon’s oldest son Dae-gyun and 55.9 billion won by the second son Hyuk-gi.

Financial regulators and tax investigators are also looking into the bookkeeping records of Chonghaejin Marine and its sister firms.

By Kim Yon-se (kys@heraldcorp.com)